THE LAND OF GODS
The Land of Gods according to the American Indian legend was a place of plenty, peopled by strange and deadly creatures. And as Bass Foster's fellow castaways in time struggled to save the Indian tribes from Spanish invaders and the perils of their depleted land, it was only natural that they use the air cars and matter projectors that had been left by travelers from a future beyond their own to explore the forbidden lands.
But what awaited them was a horror even modern weapons of war might not be able to defeat, a menace which must never be set free to wreak destruction on mortal lands!
And back in Ireland, Bass found himself hailed by the warring clans as a kingmaker, but as his reputation grew his danger did too, for the High King would let no man or legend come between him and his plans for conquest…
Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.
His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.
He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).
In one of the larger cities of an Eastern Seaboard state of the United States of America, in the first year of the last quarter of the twentieth century, a man sat at a desk in a modest office which was located in a building that, though it once had been the mansion of a well-to-do family, was now become one- and two-room offices. The man resembled in his physical appearance, dress, and usual manner only what he was supposed to resemble, a businessman of indeterminate age but probable middle years, a run-of-the-mill, middle-class American who was possessed of sufficient business acumen to afford to dress well, drive a midpriced but new auto, pay his bills on time and in full. A bachelor who had been known to make allusions to one or more former wives, he occasionally wined and dined and otherwise entertained acquaintances of the female persuasion and later, in his comfortable apartment, often shared sex with them. That he never allowed any serious or lasting relationships with them to develop was usually ascribed to his understandable fear of repeating the pain of his late marriage or marriages.
In fact, the man was nothing of the sort. In the strictest sense, he was not even a man—male, but not human, not completely human, at least. Not that there had not once been a truly human man just like this being, but he had died and his husk had been used as the pattern for fashioning the body that this being now inhabited; his brain and selected portions of several others had been skillfully merged to occupy the skull of this “man” by a technology so far beyond the “man’s” present contemporaries as to be unbelievable.
Although other beings considered this being to be almost young, still had the being been in existence in one or another form for almost half a millennium, by the standards of authentic men.
He sat at the desk, speaking in a conversational tone although he was alone in the office. The language in which he spoke, however, was one incomprehensible to any save two or three other beings like himself on all the earth. He spoke to a dimly pulsing spot of light that hovered in the air before him, its glow all but invisible in the shafts of sunlight spearing between the slats of the window blinds.
“I am certain that it is more well-meant idiocy on the parts of those cretins who are mining the easternmost reaches of the largest northern-hemisphere continent of the world we call 3-9-23-1. It is but more proof of what has been said by beings before this: Their available technologies have far outstripped their intellect and judgment and, are they not more strictly controlled and guided in the proper ways, they will eventually be the innocent instigators of real difficulties for all of us.
“In an attempt to return certain humans to this world which is my current station of duty, said humans having been plucked into the world of 3-9-23-1 by way of a malfunctioning primitive projector out of the world that we call 3-9-18-20, they managed to instead lose all of them somehow, on exactly which world and in exactly which line of time I have yet to ascertain.
“I came upon all of this by way of purest accident. I was called upon in the line of work that this creature I here am conducts to investigate disappearances of valuable items from the properties of a firm that specializes in the sale and resale of weapons of many varieties. Seated with the senior officer of the parent firm in his office, I was able to sense the afterglow of one of the carriers used by the miners of 3-9-23-1. This alerted me and I was caused to recall that close relatives of this very man had but recently disappeared under most singular circumstances. He had, indeed, asked me to investigate those disappearances, and I had so done, my conclusions having been reported to you higher beings in my report #H.523LSPI2RF.
“Had immediate remedial action been taken at that time, doubtless none of the present threatened problems would be occurring; but the circumstances prevented speedy action, I was informed, and so we now are faced with the result. I will be unable to report on the degree of gravity of this result until I can discover just where and when these subjects were projected, of course.
“The artifacts being apparently projected from this world are very oddly assorted, and many of the varieties of foods and weapons have disappeared in quantities much larger than the ten or twelve human projectees could use themselves, so I must assume that they are giving them or selling them to humans indigenous to that time and world, and all of us are unpleasantly aware of the certain outcome of such interference if it is allowed to go on for any length of time. It was interferences akin to this, allowed by the lesser ones who preceded us, that brought about the sorry state of affairs now so bedeviling us.
“But worse than the projections of artifacts of this world to another is what I noticed in a research laboratory of the firm on which I was calling. The carrier afterglow was very strong in one room of that place, and certain traces remained as to lead me to believe that the room and some of its equipment had been used to reproduce technologically sophisticated devices of the miners’ culture, world, and time. If such knowledge as was necessary to do what was done there falls into the hands of even so primitive a culture as this one the result could be chaos for us.
“It is for this reason that I send this report and why I most urgently request that my other duties be either assigned to other beings or allowed to be suspended until I can put this dangerous matter to rights. The only viable alternative will be to assign an emergency team of beings to the situation, with all that attends to such assignment and preparations of the beings for it.
My report is now concluded.”
Immediately his last syllable was pronounced, the dimly pulsing light winked out of existence.
His name was Brian, the eighth man of that name to reign as Ard-Righ or High King of Eireann or Ireland, but Brian VIII was only seen on documents or used orally by a filid as he sang the long, rhymed, often rambling genealogical records that had never been written in all the many centuries they had been compiled.
He was called Brian the Burly, and burly he was. Scion of a long line of warriors, fighting monarchs and fighting chiefs, he was obviously their true get. Although not truly a tall man, he nonetheless gave a first impression of size, of massivity; though well formed and graceful, his hands were large, strong, hairy-backed, and heavily scarred. His frame was all big bones and rolling muscles sheathing them, the hips as wide as the shoulders that looked almost too broad and thick for his body. His head rested on a neck nearly as thick as the head itself. His lower extremities, though no less solid and strong than his arms, were clearly those of a horseman, with flat thighs. Now, in his middle years, his waist was beginning to thicken slightly and strands of grey were appearing in his hair and beard, but still he looked as powerful, vital, and incipiently dangerous as ever he had in the past.
And Ard-Righ Brian the Burly was indeed dangerous in many a way. In his prime, few men in all of Eireann had been his match with the fearsome Danish-style axe he favored, ahorse or afoot; and even now, when he was in his fifties, many a younger man would be inclined to think twice before meeting the monarch in lists or on field of battle. But as deadly an opponent as he certainly was sitting his spotted destrier in armor grasping his fearsome axe, this was not the only danger he represented... or even the most significant.
For Brian was not only physically strong, he was possessed of wealth and power, wealth, power, and an ambition that gnawed at him without cease, waking and sleeping. Countless men had died, countless gallons of blood had been shed, in his years-long attempts to assuage the pangs of his ambition, and, ruthless as he was, he stood quite prepared and ready to see half the male population of the entire island done to death if it would achieve his ends.
For years without number, Brian’s paramount title, High King, had been mostly a mockery, for the high kings had held no more land than any of the other kings in Eireann, had had no hint of true sovereignty over these other kings, in fact, had acted as little better than a referee in wars between kings and kings, kings and would-be kings and the like. Brian’s sire and predecessor had envisioned an Eireann over which the high kings would hold such sway as the kings of other lands—England, Scotland, France, Norway, Denmark, and Aragon—did over theirs, and he had inculcated his son with an equally driving ambition from his very earliest years.
Of course, Brian did not, would not, could not admit to the fact that personal ambition drove him, rather did he often cite his desire to bring to an end, once and for all, the small wars between the kings that had, for year after year, century after century, racked and impoverished what could have been a rich, fertile, productive land and people. These citations, however, were only taken at face value by foreigners who did not know him or know him well; his kingly opponents in Eireann knew better. And foreigners of any intelligence or intuitiveness who served him or had any depth of dealings with him for any length of time quickly sensed a real difference between that in which Brian believed and that in which he wished others to believe he believed.
Such men as these were three condottieri temporarily resident in widely separated portions of Eireann. One was an Italian—Ser Timoteo, il Duce di Bolgia—who had, along with his justly famous condotta, been hired by one Cardinal D’Este and sent to the Irish Kingdom of Munster to help to modernize its existing army and hold it against the incursions of the High King for the Church and the House of Fitz Gerald, scions of which had been its kings for centuries—the second was also an Italian, actually, the full brother of the first, Roberto, and he now reigned as an Irish king over the kingdom called Ulaid, in the northeast of the island. Righ or King Roberto, who had realized even as the ancient crown of Ulaid was lowered upon his brow that his small, weak, impoverished little holding had had all the chance of a wet snowball on a hot griddle against the power and the wealth of the grasping High King, had sought about and then made the short sea journey to the Hebrides Islands, where—after certain negotiations—he had given over the Kingdom of Ulaid to Sir Aonghus, Regulus of the Isles, then received it back of the powerful old man as a feoff.
In due time, the Regulus had sent formal notification to the Ard-Righ and all other nearby rulers that, as in archaic times, Ulaid was once more a feoff of the Western Isles of Scotland, its king his vassal and, therefore, henceforth under his fearsome protection. At receipt of that letter, Ard-Righ Brian the Burly had, so said his people who waited upon him, cursed and blasphemed most sulphurously, then set about recalling the bulk of his large army from campaign in the Kingdom of Connachta, his fleet from interdicting the ports of that western kingdom, and otherwise had looked to be making every preparation to mount a full-scale invasion of the Hebrides, Ulaid or both.
The third condottiere, Sir Bass, Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Rutland, Markgraf von Velegrad, Baron of Strathtyne, Knight of the Garter (England), Noble Fellow of the Order of the Roten Adler (Holy Roman Empire), and holder of other honors too numerous to list, in addition to being Lord Commander of the Horse of Arthur III Tudor, King of England and Wales, presently on loan with his condotta by his own monarch to Arthur’s cousin, Ard-Righ Brian VIII, took alarm at this turn of affairs, not wishing to see troops that he considered to be pledged to the service of Arthur and England sent off to fight Scots who were just then allies of Arthur. He had dispatched a letter and a trusted, noble officer of his command—Reichs-herzog Wolfgang, who was at one and the same time uncle of the reigning Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, sometime uncle-in-law of King Arthur, and overlord of the Mark of Velegrad which Sir Bass held in feoff from him—aboard one of the smaller ships of his private war-fleet to London and his own king.
Shortly, Ard-Righ Brian was in receipt of a letter from his “loving and concerned cousin” Arthur. The words were indeed loving, the tone was diplomatic and as warm and smooth as thick samite, but still to the knowing reader was the hard steel beneath apparent... and Brian was, if anything, knowing.
Distilled down to its essence, the royal missive had said: “The Kingdom of Scotland is now my confirmed ally and the Lord or Regulus of the Hebrides or the Isles is a Scot. If you are so unwise as to attack him openly, then King James of Scotland will own no option but to attack you, and I, being his ally, cannot but lend my own forces if he so request. Haven’t you more than enough sworn enemies in Ireland but that you must seek out more and newer ones overseas? In any case, I must forbid you the use of the troops I loaned you—Duke Bass et alii—against Scotland, the Scottish Isles, or any vassal or feoff of King James or Earl Aonghus, the Lord of the Isles.”
Brian the Burly sat in a cathedra chair in one of his smaller rooms of audience with Sir Bass Foster, Duke of Norfolk, seated in a lower-backed armchair across an inlaid table from him. A ewer of Rhenish wine and a brace of gilded silver goblets sat on the table, along with a loosely rolled letter writ upon flawless vellum and adorned with colorful, impressive, much-beribboned seals. Sir Bass had but just finished reading the letter, while Brian had sipped wine slowly, watching the con-dottiere over the golden rim of the goblet.
“Well, Your Grace of Norfolk,” said Brian at last, “what do you think of your monarch’s, my own cousin’s, letter to me, eh?”
Bass felt it best to be cautious here, as cautious as he would have been on a narrow, slippery river ford over deep and deadly water. “King Arthur expresses true regard, deep respect, and sincere regard for Your Highness...”he began.
Brian laughed once, harshly. “Cousin Arthur, or whoever really dictated that letter, is by it proven a true master at the coating of bitter gall with honey, no mistaking that. Nonetheless, it is nothing less than a threat, a firm promise that if I do the most honorable thing and attack this foxy, poxy Aonghus Mac Dhomhnuill, this aging byblow outcome of the unnatural coupling of a tusked seal and a perverted, udderless cow, then I will certainly stand to be invaded by the combined forces of both Scotland and England-Wales. Was this what Your Grace expected when he sneaked a letter-bearing ship out of the anchorage of his fleet to bear word to his monarch of my advertised intentions, then?”
“I had hoped,” answered Bass, “that, being Your Highness’s cousin, King Arthur might be able to reason with Your Highness and...”
The blank, cold stare of Brian’s eyes departed to be replaced by a twinkle of merriment, then he laughed, true laughter, and said, “Your Grace, it has been unfair to dangle you on hooks for so long today, when really you were a large part of my scheme from its very inception, you know.”
Bass Foster knew that the Ard-Righ was truly friendly again from his use of the first person rather than the royal third person with which he had begun this meeting. “Your Majesty means that he truly wanted me to dispatch letters to King Arthur, then?”
Taking the near-empty goblet down from his lips, Brian replied, “Of course I did, Your Grace, else your little dispatch ship would never have made it down the Liffey to the sea. You’ve seen my forts, man, my gunners are all masters, Venetians, the best. They have the finest of modern, brazen long guns—demi-cannon, culverins, and demiculverins—to work with, they know the capabilities and peculiarities of each and every piece of ordnance under their care, and they know the ranges to any point in the river within bare feet and inches. Your rakish little ship with the Roman name could have been blown out of the water in a mere twinkling, Your Grace.
“No, I knew from the onset that, whether provoked or nay, any meaningful attack I mounted against Lord Aonghus would require near every man I own and that that would be the truest folly, all other things considered. However, I still saw the need to make the proper-sounding and -appearing noises and actions, lest I lose the respect of such as the kings of Laigin, Connachta, Breiffne, and the Northern Ui Neills, who might have declared that I lacked the will and courage to fight for my honor and possessions against any save those weaker than me.
“And so, Your Grace, I made all of the expected noises and did all that would lead men to believe that I would pool every available resource and strike hard and true at the Regulus, imminently. Had you not sent out a messenger so promptly, so cooperatively, I would have had to prime one of my own to do it, but he would not, I fear, have been nearly so convincing as was your letter borne by Reichsherzog Wolfgang.”
Bass shook his head slowly. “But... but why, Your Majesty? I do not understand it, any of it.”
Brian smiled again and indicated that Bass should refill both goblets from the ewer. With a full goblet once more in his hand, the Ard-Righ retained his smile and said, “Of course, Your Grace does not understand, but an Irishman would, eke a Scot—that’s because both the Irish and the Scots own a common, ancestral race, the Gaels, from which race the most of our customs, usages, and thought processes descend.
“The Gaels of old, Your Grace, inveterate warriors that they all were, still owned many peculiarities of thought as to what was proper or not proper in fighting and warfare, what was most honorable and least honorable as regarded warlike conduct of a warrior, a chief, or a king. The last of the true Gaels have been but bones and dust for time beyond reckoning, but still they and their ancient codes live on in the hearts and minds of us Irish and right many of the Scots.
“For good or for ill, had I seemingly made no move to revenge myself upon the lands if not the person of the Regulus—who is held to be roughly my equal in military terms—the other kings in Eireann, even those who are my clients, would have named me either coward or dishonored, and God alone knows to just what extremities that unholy mess would have led.
“These same old Gaels, however, were quite realistic in many a way, Your Grace. They also felt that for a man to decline combat with an opponent or opponents so far superior to him in strength or armament that he was certain to die—such as, say, a naked man with only a small knife against an armored man with sword and axe—was to be held prudent rather than either cowardly or dishonored to decline combat even if that meant flight.
“Now Your Grace may be dead certain that each and every one of my royal clients and enemies on this island is or will shortly be fully aware of what has transpired—of how I was provoked by Lord Aonghus, of how I began to make preparations to gather all my hosts and go against him in his lands as a brave and honorable Ard-Righ would and must do, and most importantly of how the King of England and Wales, my blood cousin but confirmed ally of the royal overlord of Lord Aonghus, threatened to bring me to combat and certain defeat with his vastly larger and stronger host was I to strike at the vassal of his ally,
“So, Your Grace must now see, the Ard-Righ thus retains his reputation of bravery, honor, and prudence. His army remains in the Kingdom of Connachta, his fleet continues to interdict her ports, sink her fishers, and raid her coasts. I am sure that I shortly will be entertaining a noble Mac Dhomhnuill who will come bearing word from Lord Aonghus that I obviously took offense at what he had sent off as a mere declaration of his God-given duty to defend his vassals, both old and new. He will send me some rich presents, offer me more galloglaiches as I need them at reduced prices, and promise that, in future, he will try to restrain Righ Roberto’s obvious land-hunger.
‘I will treat the noble messenger with all of my renowned and lavish hospitality, then send him back to his master with equally rich presents—perhaps even a destrier of the leopard-horse breed—and a letter reaffirming my friendship and respect for him, taking him up on the offer of more galloglaiches and suggesting an exchange of hostages between our two realms as a seal of enduring amicability. Then I’ll get back to business as usual, of course, here in Eireann”
The gate guards of the palace compound seemed more than happy to gape the gates, raise the portcullis, lower the bridge over the wide, green-slimy moat, and see Bass Foster and his two squires go clattering across it and, finally outside the high, thick walls, Bass could see why.
He had arrived, when summoned by three of Brian’s Knights of the Silver Moon, with merely his squires, his bannerman, and a dozen or so bodyguards, all of whom still awaited him just where he had left them. But now there were far more men than that awaiting him. Somewhat impatiently awaiting him were three to four hundred men and almost all of his squadron officers, most of them dismounted but all of them fully armed, heavily armed. Certainly for the benefit and intimidation of the guards on walls and gate, many of the waiting men were carefully examining weapon edges and primings of pistols or long guns.
A long, loud cheer rose from out that steel-sheathed throng at sight of their leader riding free and unharmed from out the Tara Palace. And another cheer, mostly a relief of long tension, grew up from the guards behind and above him. Several men tightened girths, mounted, and rode to meet Bass.
On the ride back to their camp halfway between Tara and Lagore, Bass asked the big, gruff, jovial Reichsherzog Wolfgang, who rode just behind him, wearing his fluted three-quarter armor, his face red and steaming sweat, “What, pray tell, would you all have done had I not come out, had Brian decided to cast me into one of his cells or take off my head?”
“Attack, mein freund” was the German’s blunt answer. “Attack und either free you or avenge you in much red blood.”
“Attack a fortified palace complex without engines, cannon, or even infantry, Wolfie? Be serious—cavalry alone can’t do that.”
“No?” spoke up another of Bass’s officers. “And cavalry brigades cannot prize armed merchant ships, either, my lord, yet as I recall, you proved to King Arthur, England and Wales, indeed, to all the world that a cavalry brigade commanded by Your Grace could do and had done just that, some years back.”
“That was an entirely different set of circumstances, and you ought to know it, Sir Ali,” snapped back Bass. “After all, you were there.”
“Bass, Bass, mein freund” rumbled the Reichsherzog, “vat ve planned an accomplishment of renown would not haf been. Defenses of such a poorness as those of that palace to Irischers daunting may be, but not to any other. My good Kalymks stood behind, their fine crossbows unseen, vhile those before them kept on their pistols and swords the eyes of the guards. Other of my Kalmyks were vith ropes ready.
“On command, each of the visible guards a quarrel would haf received to take to his heart, then the Kalmyks vould have the moat swum, loops of ropes over the merlons thrown, then all to the top of the wall would have climbed up, and, after any other guards cut down were, the bridge would have lowered und the grille raised up and the gates opened and everyone else to ride in would have to either free or avenge you.”
Bass believed it, all of it, for the uncle of the Holy Roman Emperor never lied, and he felt a shuddery feeling, a brief prickle of his nape-hairs. He still sometimes felt himself to be basically unworthy, undeserving of such degrees of loyalty.
“Dammit!” he thought to himself. “This bunch would have done just what Wolfie outlined, too. They would’ve shot down those guards, climbed the walls, opened the grounds to the rest, then butchered every man, woman, and child in there had I been already executed, or they would have all died in the attempt. And goddammit, I’m not, truly not, the kind of man they all seem to think I am, the kind that a pack of howling, murderous savages like my galloglaiches can and do all but worship as a living deity, that is just not me, never was.
“But now, God help me, it is. That’s just the way they all see me—their own, personal, bloody-handed god-in-the-flesh, their chosen war-chief, battle leader—me, Bass Foster, who, in another world, deliberately passed up a promising army career, a direct appointment to West Point mine for the asking with graduation to come as a captain, not merely a second lieutenant. Bass Foster, who just passed up a lifetime sinecure like that because he said he was tired of killing—tired of doing it himself, tired of sending other men to do it, tired of ordering still others to their deaths. So how did that man of announced peace wind up as a widely hailed war-leader and very personal participant in this world of gory and seemingly never-ending chaos and death wrought by man on man, then?
“I never even tried to write science fiction on the world of my birth, but knowing me, even if I had, I could never in a million years have dreamed up a scenario so ridiculously farfetched and so utterly implausible as this one I’ve lived and am now living.”
It was not really all that many years past, although it now often seemed a lifetime ago to Bass, but still could he hear very clearly the voice of that state trooper shouting above the noise made by the rotor of the nearby helicopter and the rush of the rain on that dark and stormy night on the banks of the Potomac River.
The uniformed man in the rain slicker and ten-gallon hat had made no secret of the fact that he thought Bass’s decision to be one born out of insanity, alcoholism, or both together, but he was just too tired, harried, overworked, and hurried just then by the fast-approaching flood bearing down upon them from upriver to waste any further time in argument.
“A’right, Foster, I ain’t got no right to force you to abandon yore property, see, but I done done my job, I done toF you the way she’s stacked. The river’s goin’ to crest at least ten, fifteen foot above where she’s at right now. And the way yore house is situated, it’ll be at least two foot of water in yore top level, even if the whole house don’t get undermined and come all to pieces, see. And thishere’s the lastest round the chopper’s goin’ to make in thishere direction, too. And don’t you figger you can allus change your mind and take to your boat, because it won’t last in that river way she is and will be any longer than a wet snowball in hell. So you still sure you ain’t comin’ with us?”
On receiving again Bass’s same, firm negative reply, the trooper had blown up at the steady stream of rainwater cascading off the slightly canted tip of his nose and said, shrugging, “A’right, citizen, it’s yore dang funeral... if n we ever finds yore body to bury it, that is.”
He also remembered sitting at the picture window in the living room of his trilevel home, watching the rampant, widening, deepening, grey and swirling river tear away first his runabout boat, then his dock, sweeping both swiftly away downstream along with its other booty—animal, vegetable, and mineral.
He recalled thinking then that that trooper had been right, he had indeed been some kind of fool to remain behind here. But too this was the only real property that he had ever been able to call entirely his, and the largest part of his net worth was sunk into it and its appurtenances, and he was dee-double-damned if he would leave his home and possessions to the ravages of wind and water, not to mention the packs of looters who were certain to flock from the slums of Washington, D.C., to descend on the affluent, abandoned homes just as soon as they could make it. Besides, he trusted less the dire pronouncements of “authorities” and “experts” than he did his own, unexplainable dead-certainty that he would, somehow, survive the coming disaster.
Not that that inexplicable certainty had not been more than just a little shaken when he, hearing odd noises from above during a brief lull of the storm and the pelting rain, had climbed up to his low attic to find all three of his cats clinging tightly to crosspieces of the rafters and mewling feline moans of terror. More significantly, all three of them—the huge, rangy black torn, the older queen, and the younger silver Persian which had been Carolyn’s last gift to him—were good hunters, merciless killers... yet they were peaceably sharing those rafters with several ñying squirrels and a brace of soft brown house mice. That had been when he had started both to get truly worried and to call himself a fool, aloud.
He had tried to telephone a neighbor, only to discover that the telephones all were dead, and when the lights had all gone out, he had not even bothered to check the circuit breakers. He had dragged an easy chair closer to the picture window, fetched a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey to keep him company, and then just sat, sipping neat whiskey and watching the inexorable rise of the angry grey water and reflecting upon his past life.
Through his mind’s eye, he had relived the joys and the sorrows, the wins and the losses, the victories and defeats which had studded and marked his forty-five, almost forty-six years of life. And, as the level of the river rose higher and higher, while that of the bottle sank lower and lower, his thoughts had turned finally to Carolyn.
Dear, lovely, loving Carolyn. She and the deep love they two had shared for so tragically short an interlude had been the greatest win of his lifetime. Therefore, her murder at the hands of some junkie musician and his homosexual lover had been the greatest of his losses. That horrendous loss had completely disrupted his life, had driven him almost over the edge into insanity, and the constant longing for her was even now turning him into an alcoholic. He had grieved again for a while, then he had begun to feel that, somehow, his dead love was truly near to him, and, murmuring softly to her, he had fallen asleep in the chair, there before the window. The hot, bright sun on his face had awakened him, had blinded him when first he had blinked open his gummy eyelids to expose his bleary eyes.
“Well, what the hell,” he had groaned, “I was right, after all, and... Ugh, my mouth tastes like used kitty litter. Fagh!”
Stumbling into the kitchen, he had flicked the light switch out of force of habit... and the tubes had flickered into life.
“Well, good God Almighty,” he had remarked, “those damn utility crews are really on the ball, for a change. Okay, so let’s see if the phone works, too. Shit, still dead, only one miracle at a time, it looks like.”
With a pot of coffee perking merrily on the stove top, he had decided to walk outside and see if he could determine just how much damage his house and property had sustained. But he had taken only two steps out of his front door, looked in wondering, terrified disbelief, then reeled back inside to safety, to sanity. He had slammed the door, locked it, thrown the massive barrel bolt, drawn the drapes with shaking hands, sunk down into the familiar chair, and just sat, stunned.
Drawing upon some hidden well of courage, he had at some length lifted an edge of the drapes enough to peer out and see... and see...
He didn’t think it could be called a castle or chateau, not really, although one wing of the apparently U-shaped stone house incorporated a tower at least sixty feet high and, from what he could see, the entire building and grounds seemed to be encircled by a reasonably high wall of dressed stones, pierced by at least one gate wide enough and high enough for a Sherman tankito easily negotiate. A creepy-crawliness had begun gnawing at Bass as he had gazed across his neat, manicured green lawn to behold, where the river had so recently swirled madly, part of an elaborate formal garden and, beyond both lawn and garden, the many windows of that huge house of archaic design, the windows staring back at him like the black, empty eyesockets of some hideous, grinning skull.
But Bass had not been long in discovering that he was not the only person of his world and time to be somehow transported to what seemed to be the English border country in the late Middle Ages or early Renaissance. In all, there were seven men and three women, and of this initial number, the women had fared worst in this ruder, cruder, less comfortable, and far more dangerous world into which they had been willy-nilly thrust.
The first to die had been a man, however, one of four truckers who had been transported, with their trucks, trailers, and loads intact, from Interstate 95 to a stretch of long, narrow, level lea all in the blinking of an eye and with hardly a bump. When one of the men had climbed down from his rig and approached two armored men on horseback to ask the location and how to get back to the interstate, he had been lanced through the chest for his trouble.
The second death had been that of a middle-aged and alcoholic woman, wife of a chemistry professor of fifty-odd years, who had, himself, eventually gone mad. The third death had been that of a young hippie girl, who had the dangerous habit of swallowing anything that looked to be a drug and discovered too late that the pills of this period were quite often deadly in even small amounts.
Since that death, there had been no more, although one other of the truckers had been severely and permanently injured in a great, raging battle between the English army and that of the Scots invaders. The third woman, who now was Bass’s wife and the mother of his son, had become murderously insane and had had to be separated from her child and locked away in a convent of a nursing order.
Knowledge and skills and materials from their own world had allowed the survivors of the group to vastly improve and to immeasurably help certain aspects of the world into which they had been so abruptly and surprisingly deposited.
The professor had contributed much to the cause of the beset and beleaguered English and their king and had been ennobled quite early on, before his unfortunate traits of personal cowardice and a hectoring manner, plus symptoms of his encroaching emotional instability, had cost him all that his talents had earned and sent him riding off into an exile that had resulted in his full descent into madness.
One of the truckers had developed new and better firearms and had carried on some of the projects originated by the madman after his departure. He had been aided in this by another of the truckers as well as by the male “hippie” who had been shocked back to normality by the hideous demise of his girlfriend. The third trucker, subsequent to his crippling combat injury, had begun the selective breeding of farm animals on the country estate of a churchman.
Under the circumstances, deeply hidden traits in Bass had emerged and flowered. He had become a superlative cavalry commander, a warrior of some note, and a matchless leader of men. In the society into which he had been thrust, which was unlike the one he had departed—in which the military leader and combat expert was distrusted, derided, and held in contempt—such traits as he demonstrated were considered to be among the highest attainable attributes of a gentleman, and his feats had been rewarded by a shower of honors which had been conferred upon him by nobles and king alike.
Only well after his arrival in the strange world did he find that he and his companions were not the first to be so deposited. Two men had preceded them, these having arrived nearly two centuries before from the twenty-first century. These two had been scientists, both of whom had been the recipients of longevity treatments, and, although one had died in battle since that long-ago arrival, the other was not only still living but was the Archbishop of York, the second-most-powerful man in all of that version of England.
The two scientists had made their arrival at precisely the same location as had Bass and the rest, and it was assumed that a malfunction of the projecting device—still squatting in the ground level of the old defensive tower there—was what had jerked Foster, the other six men, and the three women into the new and different world.
For different it assuredly was from their own world of a comparable time and place. The date that Bass had been given some time after he had begun service with the royal army had been A.D. 1643, which had in his own world been in the late northern European Renaissance era; but conditions in this world were much closer to being late mediaeval than early Renaissance. Over a period of time, Bass had discovered that no really large, strong nations existed in this world, only small, relatively weak countries, and that this miserable, very feudal mess was to a very large extent a result of the constant meddling in lay affairs of the Church.
The Church of this world exercised and was able to exercise far more real raw power than the Church of his world’s history ever had owned. Part of the reason for this was the fact that there were no longer any Moslems in this world, a military alliance of Christians and Moslems against the Mongols at some time in the thirteenth century having gradually and miraculously become a merger of Islam and Christianity. The other source of inordinate power for the Church was her control of the sales of gunpowder worldwide. She had from the beginning of this lucrative trade tried to keep the formula a secret, referred to refined niter as “priests’ powder,” and savagely punished any layman or group who so far transgressed as to make their own, unsanctified gunpowder—tormenting them, torturing them, maiming and mutilating them before finally burning them alive, the cavities of their mangled bodies stuffed to nigh bursting with their own, unhallowed gunpowder. The England into which Bass and the rest had been thrust was not the same as the seventeenth-century England of his own world had been, consisting only of England and Wales, owning no suzerainty over either Ireland or Scotland. Moreover, it had been an England sorely beset—the king excommunicated, the entire kingdom under interdict, and, a crusade having been preached against it by Pope Abdul in Rome, hordes of bloodthirsty, loot-hungry foreign invaders massing against it on every hand.